Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay

Location:  Brooklyn, NY
United States
Project Description: 

Welcome to Camp America is a conceptual documentary photo book and touring exhibition combining vivid, unexpected imagery, original government documents and first-person texts to convey the absurdity and disorientation of Guantánamo Bay, America's extrajudicial offshore prison paradise. Drawing on her 12 years practicing as a civil rights lawyer, artist Debi Cornwall employs empathy and dark humor to engage audiences and provoke new questions about choices made in the name of our satefy since September 11. Photographs range from vivid, unexpected photographs of "home" and "play" spaces of prisoners and guards at "Gitmo", to gift-shop souvenirs and environmental portraits of 14 men once held as alleged terrorists, after they have been cleared and freed, in nine countries, from Albania to Qatar. The project, fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3) organization, was published in the fall of 2017 by nonprofit Radius Books and has been shortlisted for both the Paris Photo-Aperture First PhotoBook Prize and les Rencontres d'Arles Photo-Text Award. It is also named among Smithsonian Magazine's "Top Ten Photo Books of 2017.) A description of the book is here.

"It’s rare to find a photobook in which the book doesn’t just act as an outlet, but actually amplifies the power of the work within." Mother Jones (2017).

The exhibition has been shown in China, Korea and Switzerland, and is packaged for onward shipping to the next European venue. The U.S. debut is hosted by the Steven Kasher Gallery , including photographs, the book, archival material, and a sound installation in collaboration with poet Frank Smith, from October 26 to December 22, 2017.

"a subtly layered study of an important chapter in American history. Intermingling investigative reporting with fine art aesthetics, her images constantly walk a knife-edge of interpretation, each a test of vantage point and state of mind, and it is this openness that makes the exhibit so thought-provoking and compelling." Collector Daily (2017).

Public programming is critical to this project. For example, at the Steven Kasher show, we held a panel discussion to a standing-room-only audience, which panel included  - for the first time in the U.S. - a former Guantánamo prisoner (via Skype), a former interrogator, and civil rights lawyer, along with Cornwall and critic and scholar Fred Ritchin. Employing her background as an advocate and trained mediator, Debi facilitates conversations with local audiences along with her network of experts who have personal experience on both sides of the wire. See installation views here.

Debi is actively seeking additional funding partners for future exhibitions, public events, and a second edition of photo book in both English/Arabic and French/Arabic, as the book is almost sold out after less than three months. A current CV is downloadable here.